AGM-88 “HARM”

An AGM-88E Italian upgrade (Media credit/David Monniaux)

An AGM-88E Italian upgrade (Media credit/David Monniaux)

The “HARM” is so effective that when an American pilot shouts the launch callsign “Magnum” over the radio, it’s enough to get most enemy radar operators to shut down immediately.

The AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile was developed by Texas Instruments in 1983 as a replacement to the AGM-45 “Shrike” and AGM-78 “Standard” anti-radiation missiles. It’s a missile that simply hones in on an activated radar signal with deadly results.

An air-launched “HARM” can seek, attack, and destroy a radar source with minimal action needed by the pilot. It is used to conduct “SEAD” or “Wild Weasel” missions to take out enemy air defenses and surface-to-air missiles. It is powered by solid fuel at Mach 2+ and leaves no smoke trail in its wake.

The missile came out of a U.S. Navy program and originally put into the A-6, A-7, and F/A-18. The Air Force became interested and put the “HARM” on the F-4G “Wild Weasel” and F-16 platforms. The Navy also outfitted EA-6B and the new E/A-18G “Growler” electronic warfare jets. The F-35 will also be equipped to carry it.

The AGM-88 is lighter and slower than its British contemporary, the “ALARM” or Air Launched Anti-Radiation Missile.

The “HARM” first saw combat in March 1986 against a Libyan SA-5 site in the Gulf Sidra. It was used to great success in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.

An AGM-88 "HARM" missile loaded

An AGM-88 “HARM” missile loaded

When a “HARM” is launched, the pilot calls out “Magnum” over the radio to announce it. The missile is so feared that Iraqi radar operators would usually power down when they heard the word called out. Airmen began to use fake “Magnum” calls to elicit the desired effect, as even a momentary shutdown of enemy radar provides an immense advantage in battle. The missile was also used in Serbia in 1999, and the fake “Magnum” call was also used.

There is some concern about friendly fire with the AGM-88, as similarities in radar emissions make it impossible for the missile to detect friend from foe. The AGM-88 operates differently from traditional air-to-ground missiles. It doesn’t hone in on a specific target but the radar emissions of that target. It is possible for the “HARM” to strike an undesired target if the target shuts down and another radar source opens up.

During the Persian Gulf War, an F-4G “Wild Weasel” escorting a B-52 mistakenly fired an AGM-88 at the bomber’s tail gun after the gun’s radar targeted the F-4. The F-4 pilot mistook the tail gun for an Iraqi antiaircraft gun. The missile hit the B-52, but only caused shrapnel damage to the tail and no one was hurt. The B-52 was then renamed “In HARM’s Way.”

The missile is now produced by Raytheon, which bought out the defense-branch of Texas Instruments.

Specifications

Length: 13 feet, 8 inches
Weight: 800 pounds
Diameter: 10 inches
Wingspan: 3 feet, 8 inches
Range: 30+ miles
Speed: Mach 2+
Guidance System: Proportional
Warheads: High explosive
Unit Cost: $200,000

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About John M. Guilfoil

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at guilfoil.j@blastmagazine.com. Tweet @johnguilfoil.